Fish Out of Water

the hollow men

I read an incredible poem written by TS Eliot (1888-1965) entitled “The Hollow Men” this semester, and it echoes an idea that I found in other important literary figures, specifically Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). The idea points out that modern man is weak. That he lacks substance and does not fight for the what is good and true and beautiful. That he does not search for meaning, but floats along the tide of the masses. He attaches to the popular idea, never questioning the times or trends. However, these powerful figures recognized the degeneration of modern man and cried out to warn humanity. To warn us.

These men yelled “fish out of water” as if they were playing Marco Polo and modern man began to escape from the pool. They opened their eyes and tried to alert the world of the injustice they perceived. I find it fascinating that these three men with enormously different views on life shared similar insights. I think their genius and prophetic voices must be read and thought about today. I will share a few of their thoughts and writings, as I think it is easy to see the parallel and importance between each of them.

The entire poem is incredible so please read it, but I specifically want to share the concluding stanzas. It is entitled “The Hollow Men” because it illustrates modern man as a scarecrow, which is stuffed with hay and lacks substance, and therefore will go anywhere the wind blows. This last part shares how the end of times is marked by modern man’s loss of vitality.

TS Eliot “The Hollow Men”

V

Here we go round the prickly pear

Prickly pear prickly pear

Here we go round the prickly pear

At five o’clock in the morning.

 

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow

 

For Thine is the Kingdom

 

Between the conception

And the creation

Between the emotion

And the response

Falls the Shadow

 

Life is very long

 

Between the desire

And the spasm

Between the potency

And the existence

Between the essence

And the descent

Falls the Shadow

 

For Thine is the Kingdom

 

For Thine is

Life is

For Thine is the

 

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper.

 

Friedrich Nietzsche talked about the same phenomenon but used the title “The Last Man” which is seen in his novel, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The website, The Academy of Ideas, sums up this idea of Nietzsche brilliantly so I’ll just share what they say:

“The Last Man is the individual who specializes not in creation, but in consumption. In the midst of satiating base pleasures, he claims to have “discovered happiness” by virtue of the fact that he lives in the most technologically advanced and materially luxurious era in human history.

On some level, the Last Man knows that despite his pleasures and comforts, he is empty and miserable. With no aspiration and no meaningful goals to pursue, he has nothing he can use to justify the pain and struggle needed to overcome himself and transform himself into something better. He is stagnant in his nest of comfort, and miserable because of it. This misery does not render him inactive, but on the contrary, it compels him to seek victims in the world. He cannot bear to see those who are flourishing and embodying higher values, and so he innocuously supports the complete de-individualization of every person in the name of equality. The Last Man’s utopia is one in which total equality is maintained not from without, by an oppressive ruling class, but from within, through the “evil-eye” of envy and ridicule.”

Here is a quote from the novel:

“No herdsman and one herd. Everyone wants the same thing, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse.”

C.S. Lewis talked about the same phenomenon but used the title “Men Without Chests”, which pointed to the fact that modern man lost his heart and substance. His source of life. The ability to integrate his passions and intellect into action. The cultivation of his desires to seek something greater. The ability for man to be magnanimous. This idea is explained in his book, The Abolition of Man.

Here are two quotes from the book:

“The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment- these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man; for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.”

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

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